- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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You can look at a lot of different factors when trying to predict the forthcoming season. Most people start with last year's results, weigh in the number of returning starters, consider schedule strength and voila.
One potential predictor of success is experience along the offensive line. If there's any position where a coach wants veterans going into a season, it's got to be the hogs up front. A young, unproven offensive line can sometimes spell disaster -- just think of Michigan in 2013.
With that in mind, we're taking a look at the number of returning starts along the offensive line in the Big Ten this season. Preseason magazine guru Phil Steele has compiled a chart of career starts for every offensive line in the FBS in 2014. Here's how the league stacks up both nationally and against one another:
3. Indiana: 130 career starts
4. Minnesota: 129
19. Northwestern: 100
22. Rutgers: 99
23. Illinois: 96
46. Wisconsin: 74
66. Iowa: 62
T-68. Maryland: 61
T-68: Michigan State: 61
107. Michigan: 37
116. Nebraska: 32
117. Purdue: 31
126. Ohio State: 21
127. Penn State: 20
Indiana has more returning starts on the O-line than any other Power Five conference team (Appalachian State and UTSA are Nos. 1-2 in the FBS). The Hoosiers' line has been one of the more underrated units in the Big Ten of late and should be a real strength this season. ... Similarly, Minnesota is very experienced up front, which has to make Jerry Kill very happy. Expect more of that power running game in Minneapolis this year. ... Only one FBS team (Tennessee, with just six career starts) brings back less experience than Ohio State or Penn State. The Buckeyes, of course, lost four starters off a line that was dominant the past two seasons, while the Nittany Lions will return only Donovan Smith if Miles Dieffenbach is indeed out for the year. There are big question marks in the offensive trenches in both Columbus and State College.
So just how accurate is this measurement? Steele did the same thing last year, and the top Big Ten teams were Minnesota (No. 8 nationally), Michigan State (No. 9) and Ohio State (No. 30). The Gophers had one of their best seasons in a long time, while the Spartans and Buckeyes met in the Big Ten title game. Northwestern ranked last in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats went on to have a very disappointing season despite high expectations. Then again, Iowa (No. 94), Penn State and Wisconsin (tied for 90th) were all able to overcome experience issues.
Experience is one thing. Talent is another. Ideally, you'd like to have both, of course. Just keep in mind who's got veterans on the offensive line when coming up with your preseason picks.
18hMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
2dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy